Kansas may well be forever linked to its famous, albeit fictional, tornado which blew Dorothy’s house all way to the Land of Oz. There is nothing fictional, however, about the more than 50 tornados this state suffers through every year. Few other states experience as many tornadoes. On the other hand, Kansas is blessed with more than its fair share of sunny days. And Kansas is also the most productive of the states, nicknamed the “breadbasket of America”. Its vast farmlands and tallgrass prairies, the largest still remaining in North America, produce everything from wheat and corn, to cotton and soybeans. Cattle, sheep, and hogs are also part of the mix.
Geographically, Kansas consists of an eastern region that is green, fertile, hilly, and forested, as well as traversed by rivers and lakes. Western Kansas, on the other hand, is comprised of the Great Plains, which is lined with endless wheat fields and acres upon acres of wild sunflowers.
Kansas’ history and heritage is as colorful as its geography. This “Sunflower State” was originally inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before being “discovered”, explored, and claimed in part by Spanish conquistadors in the early 1540s. Much of present-day Kansas was acquired from the French in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The remainder was turned over by the Mexicans to the U.S. after their defeat in the Mexican-American War in 1848. The mid-19th century brought a wave of traders and pioneers who cross the Sante Fe and Chisholm Trails in wagons, making their overland trek to the west. Abolitionist John Brown also operated an underground railroad through Kansas, helping slaves escape. Kansas was deeply divided between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. In 1860, it was finally admitted as an anti-slavery, free state. After the Civil War, Kansas experienced a westward expansion brought on by the construction of the Santa Fe Railroad. Kansas soon became the legendary “America Old West”, home to “wild west” towns like Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge City where many of the gun-slinging lawmen and outlaws rose to fame and notoriety, among them colorful characters included the likes of “Wild Bill” Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson.
Today, Kansas is just as exciting as in the days of the Old West. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the open ranges of the American bison or venture into wildlife refuges in Western Kansas and at Flint Hills. The state’s numerous recreation areas, rivers, and lake reservoirs also teem with crappie, bass, catfish, and walleyes, as well as game preserves of pheasants, deer, quail, and waterfowls, making Kansas a perfect destination for avid fishermen and hunters.
History buffs will enjoy retracing and reliving the cowboy days in towns like Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita, and Hays where numerous museums and monuments can be found dedicated to this era of state history. You’ll also find a number of space and aviation museums and attractions, including the second largest space museum in Hutchinson known as the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Kansas, after all, is one of the country’s largest aerospace manufacturers.